THE BULLI COLLIERY DISASTER.
EIGHTY-FIVE BODIES RECOVERED.
[BY SPECIAL WIRE.]
THE SCENE DESCRIBED
[FROM OUR SPECIAL REPORTER.]
BULLI, FRIDAY (8.15 P.M).
Hurrying from Campbelltown to Bulli, I was much struck, on reaching the brow of the great coaI mountain overlooking the town, with the smiling prospect that ushered in the entrance to what for the last two days has been a veritable valley of the shadow of death. Below me, at such a depth that the peaceful-looking hamlet appeared quite miniature, was a picture of serenely calm sylvan beauty that, seen on any other errand than my present one, would have been delightful. The fern dells were of fairy loveliness, with the bright sunlight of a cloudless sky peeping into their recesses. The ferns clothed the side of the mount, and round its precipitous sides wound the thin white line of road, which leads by a sharp descent to the township, clustered beneath the stretches of meadow land and commonages, nestling snugly in orchard bowers, and margined by the scolloped inlets of the white sandy shore of the broad blue depths of the ocean, now so still that a yacht, in the far distance of the azure expanse, scarcely moved upon the water with all sail set. The perfume of wild flowers beguiled the way ; the avenues en- closing the road, formed of tall gum trees, were garlanded with ivy; the fresh mountain air was cold and bracing. Distance softened the rugged outlines of the rude buildings, until the spot looked so fair and reposeful as to seem the abode of perfect rest. It was hard to believe that a great desolation had devastated more than half the homes in this little township, that even at that moment all that the deadly fire-damp had left of more than fourscore fathers, brothers, and bread- winners, were being rescued charred, broken, and almost unrecognisable, from the black pit’s mouth. Of course the wail of the widow and the orphan could not rise as high as the tall cliff, nor could the height of the long processions of waggons rumbling slowly down the hill be descried yet one could wish that the sun had not shone so smilingly on the ghastly work that was going on. A lowering day and a funeral pall would have been more in keeping with so great a harvest of death. The brightness of the sunlight seemed a cruel jibe upon the terrible mourning in that stricken valley.
Down the hill and through the main street of the town, there did not appear to be many signs of great trouble. The stores were open, with the shutters up. The hotels were busy serving drinks to blear-eyed, grimy men, haggard and worn out in their 36 hours’ search for the dead before they had finally given place to fresh gangs. On the verandahs were more sooty crowds, talking and smoking ardently, by the doors of two small houses whose window-blinds gave evidence of the mourning that was within. In the interior was a group of sympathising women and two grown girls, who had each lost a father, and whose faces bore traces of suffering. The paroxysms of grief had passed away, but the sadness of death was written in haggard lines. A stranger would not have guessed the appalling tribulation that had visited the town. The hand of the destroyer seemed to have struck far more lightly than had been reported, but I had yet to be brought face to face with the reality, and see in a naked, lurid light what an explosion of fire dump in a mine, crowded with workers, means. The horrors which must be passed in review at Bulli today have a terrible pre-eminence in the record of calamities in Australia, and it may be fervently wished that the miserable catastrophe, the quenching of 84 sturdy lives in the flash of one hideous concussion, will never again be approached. The mind of the eye-witness recoils at what has been seen, and the suffering that will ensue unless a noble philanthropic effort is made to help the helpless women and children thus suddenly cast upon the world.
FEELING AMONGST THE MINERS.
I picked out of the throng of grimy men aforesaid one who I thought would be talkative, and would know what he was talking about, and I was disappointed. Sandie, as I shall call him, had worked on the Bulli mine before the strike, and had been excluded from re-employment when the strike was over, by reason of the determination of the company not to employ any unmarried man over 20 years of age. Think of that when putting your hand into your pocket to help the bereaved. Surely it will stimulate the people of Victoria to give quickly and largely to succour the distressed to know that by the very conditions of the management of the mine the men so suddenly destroyed were men who have given hostages to fortune in the shape of little ones who will soon, unless substantial help should come from without, be crying for bread, especially as bread became scarce during the long strike just ended. The strike was kept up to the bitter end until the men were, as they express it, starved into submission, and even small cherished savings were spent, so that there is absolute destitution on every hand.
The occasion is a truly national one for the exercise of benevolence, and the company, forgetting their former attitude of resistance to those who are now in the grave, are likely to set an example to all to forget faction spirit, and to treat the unhappy relatives of the dead miners with a generosity proportionate to their necessities. The Government is also to be appealed to, and I have the authority of Mr. F. Abigail, the Minister of Mines, for saying that the Treasury is likely to respond considerately to so deserving an appeal. It has only to be remembered that they are working miners who have perished in this holocaust, that is to say, men in the prime of life, fathers of young children, not men whose families are grown up. No man upon whom age has begun to to tell could endure the toilsome labour of a coal miner, hence the number of little ones who will have to depend for an asylum upon the munificence of the public.
There is one note in the great cry of lamentation that goes up from Bulli to-day which sounds most discordant and out of keeping with the solemnity of the grave which is supposed to cover all. The word is ” blacklegs.” It is heard on every side in talking with the miners, and it seems to be uttered with an unforgiving bitterness by men who ventured into the poisonous fumes of the mine, and were beaten back overpowered in their heroic attempt to save life, albeit salvation was impossible from the moment when that ominous thunder clap echoed through the shoots of the great Bulli coal mine, and was a knell of terrible import to many a miner’s wife. Yes, the miners, with manful intrepidity, would hazard their lives to save the blackleg, but they do not, and will not, forgive those non-union miners who helped the masters to break down the sullen, stubborn resistance of the union. The animosity against the blackleg finds vent in charging him with being the cause of the disaster. The old hands, so ran the wild assertions, knew there was firedamp in the mine. They knew how to provide against its becoming a danger. They were as skilful as they were cautious, but the new men, who had no skill, used naked lights instead of the Davey safety lamp, that has saved thousands of lives in England, and they thus set fire to the fatal gas. This is what the men say, and the managers of the mine leave these stories to be refuted by the common-sense reasoning that in the fatal shift the old miners were as three to one of the blacklegs, who would not have been allowed, for the last three weeks, since the strike collapsed, to do foolish things in the mine, and endanger not only their own lives but the lives of others, by whom they were most zealously watched with a surveillance sharpened by hatred.
The managers, I say, leave us to draw our own inferences on this point, for of explanation, refutation, or information, the manager, Mr. Ross, and the inspector, Captain Rowan, say never a word, promising only that in due course the truth will be fully published. It is in vain to point out to them that their reticence may be injuriously construed by the public, and that it is as well to state the facts of the case first as last. They sedulously close their mouths. It appears now that Captain Rowan visited the mine last week, and I am exercising a discretionary reserve in withholding particulars which I have upon a pretty reliable source as to the personal thoroughness or otherwise of that inspection. I will merely say that Mr. Abigail, Minister of Mines, who is here to-day, has been apprised of what is stated on the subject, and will cause the closest enquiry to be made into the merits of the case. My miner friend said he would take me to the mine, to which I was anxious to go. We turned out of the main street towards the hill, up a road which, in acclivity and surrounding contour, is exactly like the way up to the Springs at Mount Wellington, Tasmania. In fact, in no way can an idea of the topography of Bulli be so accurately and clearly presented as by saying that if Mount Wellington and the scenery on the route to the Huon River and the fernery, so well known to Tasmanian tourists, were compressed into the radius of half a mile, they would be reproduced with the utmost fidelity. We had just turned up the hill out of the bustle of the main street when suddenly there was presented to me the full force of the catastrophe, in a way that was as pointed as a stab. There before us, on a little green plateau, adjoining an artificer’s shop, was a gang of man industriously sawing, planing, and hammering at dozens of coffins, which were in all stages of manufacture. The deal boards were fashioned with black cloth with a rapidity that made it quite explicable why the coverings of sepulture were being thus paraded in the full gaze of bereaved friends, for no shop in the town would have found room for all the hands that it was necessary to employ to provide for the interment of so many victims.
The coffins, as soon as finished, were piled upon drays and tugged up the hill to the primitive mortuary above – the blacksmith’s shop – into which the bodies were taken on being brought out of the mine. As we followed in the wake of one of the carts, we met other primitive vehicles jogging slowly and ruggedly over the boulders, which made the load of coffins, which now had corpses in them, jump at every step of the horses, drawing in turn every bush receptacle on wheels, from a costermonger’s trap to heavy waggons. Each coffin was of plain black, bearing on its side a chalked inscription of the name of the deceased. Some of the simple hearses were quite unattended, except by the driver, who sat on the topmost coffin and sought the smoothest road. Perhaps the tenants of these unregarded coffins were so-called blacklegs, who being new arrivals had no friends in the district to follow them to their last resting-place. Perhaps they were the unrecognisable remains of some of the kinsfolk of the mourners who, up there on the side of the hill, were still waiting beside those two black cavernous mouths, which had sent forth so many victims.
Descending the fern clad track in straggling order with the carts were sorrow-marked people, to whom Sandie, who appeared to be well-known to everybody, from time to time addressed words of kindly cheer. ” Have you got the boy out yet,” he said to a man who had only too evidently been straining every nerve. ” No,” faltered the man, the father of the boy inquired after, with a glistening eye, said, ” Oh, man,” with a rush of intense feeling. ” I can stand it no longer. The sights were horrible and made me sick.” He passed on, the image of desponding misery. A little behind him came another man, looking stupidly dazed, and almost reeling. To Sandie’s cordial salutation he returned a vacant stare, and wanders on unsteadily, leaving us to think sadly of a mind temporarily unhinged by grief. At almost every step we meet others who give us news from the mine, who tell us, when my companion inquires, that they have found their relative – brother, son, father, or uncle – whom they had been seeking after the explosion, and that the funeral will take place at such a time and place. There is an effort at stoical calmness or fortitude, and the voice tries to be firm as these words are spoken. But a hand often is raised to brush away a starting tear, which would betray the sufferings which it seems to be thought unworthy of a sturdy miner to exhibit. And so the fateful news accumulates and comes more thickly the nearer we get to those two black cavernous months on the hill, which are still belching out such ghastly prey.
Just as we turn a jutting point in the somewhat tortuous path we see advancing towards us the most touching of all the pitiable processions. A cart carrying two coffins is followed by a strangely assorted group. There is a patriarch with white beard and the stoop of extreme age holding by the hand a girl child, just able to walk. Two able-bodied men, who may be the sons of the patriarch, are carrying prattling infants in arms, and beside them are two young women, who are bowed down with woe. ” Whose coffins were they?” I purposely forbore to ask, but the inmates of those plain black shells would evidently have buried with them the love of two young hearts that was cruelly blighted in the bud.
LAYING OUT THE DEAD.
After our toilsome climb we had reached the outlets of the mine, which burrows straight into the side of the hill, and were in the presence of the saddest, the most dreadful, sights of all. In the blacksmith’s shop there is a point at which a veil should be drawn, both in order not to outrage the public mind by sickening details, and out of deference to the poor mangled heaps of humanity which once had the shape of men. I will not attempt to describe explicitly what was seen in this vast charnel house, whose only claim to be a fitting resting-place for the dead was the pall of black which thickly enshrouded every nook and cranny of the bare gaunt building. The floor was thickly strewn with rows of bodies lying with upturned faces, each mercifully wrapped in a sheet to hide its horror, and occupying not only the floor space but the anvil and sundry trestles. On each a coffin was in due course hoisted for the purpose of being screwed up, with what appeared to me to be a most business-like celerity and coolness ; but it is to be remembered that the men had been at the same work all day yesterday. The odour of mortality pervaded the barn-like apartment, the dirty windows of which dimly looked out on to fresh verdure, and the smiling landscape, which sadly jarred with the labours of the women who were employed to place the bodies in the cereclothes of burial. The forge in the centre of the broad space was laden with linen and crepe, which had to be many times replenished, as the carrying in of bodies from the pit’s mouth, a few yards distant, steadily went on, with apparently unending repetition.
The deceased were too horribly burnt to allow of their clothes being taken off, and after the removal of their boots, the winding sheet was placed over the shirt and trousers, which were all the dead men wore. As one after another, first the women and then the men, did their work with well practised hands on the bodies, a party of bearers carried them to the carts in waiting outside, each of which, after being packed as full as it could hold, slowly defiled down the hill, as we had seen them do all the morning. All this gruesome employment went on to the steady rapping of the hammers on the coffins. During my brief glance at what the blacksmith’s shop contained, a young woman in a frantic state of agitation forced her way in and insisted on seeing her brother, a young lad not more than 14 years, who lay dead on the ground. It was a cruel kindness to let her have her wish, for the sight that was uncovered would have tried far stronger nerves, and with one unearthly groan, after casting her eyes towards it, she fell insensible into friendly arms.
As I stood outside the morgue, and looking forward a few yards at those uninviting tunnels, through which had burst the death-dealing blast, and which were as black as the dire tragedy enacted within, word came that 57 bodies had been taken out of the mine, and that all that remained to be explored to make up the full tally – 84 – were the western workings. To carry out the exploration in the new direction, it was necessary to direct the fresh air into those faces, so that the relief party could proceed in safety. The manner of doing this was to close up all but a small aperture in the tunnel, in order to concentrate and add the force of the pure current. This undertaking was progressing till the night set in, but in spite of the darkness there will be no respite in the unwelcome work of disinterring the dead – only to inter them in another grave – until the last of the long roll of lost lives has been accounted for.
The deceased were buried in batches at 9, 11, 12, and 4 o’clock respectively in the cemeteries surrounding the Church of England and Presbyterian churches. The officiating ministers were the Rev. W.H. Taylor (Church of England), and the Rev. R.H. Waugh (Presbyterian.) In addition to the church services, some of the deceased, who were members of Foresters’, Oddfellows’, and other friendly societies, had the last tribute of respect paid to them according to the rites of their order. Most of the coffins were carried to the grave in the rude country carts which brought their bodies from the mount, and the mourning friends – men, boys, women, girls – walked in procession behind the jolting vehicle. In Bulli, a working miner’s community, there is little opportunity for the display of ostentatious trappings of woe, but the gauntness of the appointments of these simple obsequies only brought home the more painfully and nakedly the terrible import of the calamity which has robbed so many poor families of their breadwinners and sole support. What they will do God only knows, unless the unsparing almsgiving which followed the Creswick mining disaster is repeated throughout Australia.
The task of recovering the dead bodies is being carried on without intermission. Up to midnight 38 had been brought out and identified, some of them presenting a horrible appearance. The men at work include many from the neighbouring collieries, doing eight hours’ shift night and day, and work has proceeded so far in a most satisfactory manner. The bodies that have been last taken out are the most mutilated, showing that the men in the innermost part of the workings suffered the most severely. An old man named Wm. Wade had a roasted appearance in the face, but his clothes, though much burned, clung to his body. In his pocket was found a silver watch, with a great dint in it. The hands were pointing to half-past 2, a very good proof as to the time when the explosion occurred. Many men had their necks broken. One was found with his hands on his throat, and another holding his hat to his mouth. There were many indications that the men had attempted to save themselves, possibly from suffocation by after-damp subsequent to the explosion. One was a fine able-bodied fellow named John Anderson, who was said to be a chemist by profession, and a man of superior education, who had never before worked in a mine, and who had but recently been employed at the Bulli mine. A young man named John Thomas Wynne had his brains dashed out, and his body scorched so much that his own father found it anything but easy to identify him. Another youth, George Walker, was hideous on account of bruises and burns. There were also his father and brother in the catastrophe, and to aggravate the case.
His mother was only confined yesterday. There are, indeed, many tales of sorrow connected with the suffering families, nearly all of whom are practically destitute. The names of Victor Hohn and Thomas Metcali, who appear in the list of killed supplied by the colliery, make a total of 85, but these were put down erroneously. These two men are alive, and the number of killed will thus be 83. The following is the list of bodies recovered, as far as it is possible to recognise them:
|G. R. Adamson
|Wm. Lucas Jno
|Graham Frank Olsen Jno
|Williams Wm Neil
|John Thos Wynne
|Thos. Davis – Walker
At midnight the search party succeeded in recovering the first body from the western district, and this was identified as that of the boy George Robinson, a wheeler, who was supposed to be in the Hill-end part of the workings, but his occupation probably took him into the western road. The body was fearfully mangled, and was crushed into a small heap, with the head jammed between the axle and the bottom of the truck. It looked so little like a human body that the exploring party had already passed it unnoticed. Meanwhile other bodies were carried out from the Hill-end workings, and by about 2 o’clock this morning over 40 had been recovered. The access of search parties to the Western district denotes satisfactory progress, as it was feared that the foul air and wreckage would cause a long delay. Several other bodies were brought from the western drive, where there were believed to be 24 men at the time of the explosion. As the search goes further the bodies recovered show more frightful mutilation, being nearer the seat of the explosion. During the early hours of this morning, about 10 more were brought out and 56 have now been recovered. In addition to those brought out up to mid night, the following have been identified:
|John Michael Doyle
Parties are now working at both headings. The task of bringing out the dead bodies is becoming very repulsive, but the men go on with admirable perseverance, and it is hoped that they may be able to get nearly all, if not all, the bodies out to-day or tomorrow. The inquest has been adjourned, pending a reference to the Attorney-General as to whether it will be sufficient to hold the inquiry on one batch of bodies.
STATEMENT BY A SURVIVOR.
John Cavill, a miner, says :—” When the explosion occurred I was engaged with the underground overseer exploring one of the passages to the old workings, about a quarter of a mile from the Western district, and about a mile and a quarter from the opening of the tunnel. A fall of stone had occurred in the passage, and a hole had been just knocked through, when we heard what seemed to be an explosion. The noise was very loud. At first we thought it was a heavy fall of stone, but it blew our lights out, and we came to the conclusion that it was an explosion. There was a small quantity of air coming through the hole, and we went through and along for about 50 or 60 yards.
The overseer asked me if I could smell anything. I said, ” Yes, I smell something like powder smoke.” At the same time we could see a light mist. The overseer said, ‘ Let us go back – something terrible has happened.’ We made our way back as quickly as we could. We smelt the after damp until we got out of the main road of the grip district, and there was a good deal of after- damp. The overseer called out to me to put my hat over my mouth and to run for my life. I did so. We kept together, but he was in front of me. We saw two lads with a horse, and we sang out to them, ‘ Let the horses go, and run for your lives.’ The boys went ahead. The foreman and myself kept together till we reached the furnace. The furnace man was in a terrible state when we called to him to come up. The after-damp was very bad until we got to the bank head. We had only five matches, and they were damp, and it was with much trouble that we got a light. We had a miraculous escape. If it had not been for the light we got, we could not have been saved. We then heard a faint sound like a second explosion. There was a rush of wind and a great noise, as of a full of stone. I felt very bad when I got out.”
Richard White, the underground overseer, who was with Cavill, makes a similar statement, and he declares that their escape was next to a miracle, as the afterdamp was overpowering, and their safety was not assured till long after they had reached the furnace.
With regard to the practice at the mine in connection with the use of safety lamps, the Bulli miners assert positively that the safety lamps carried by the men working in the gassy district were not invariably locked. Mr. Nicholson, the secretary of the Miners’ Union, states that one lamp that was brought out with the bodies was unlocked. A miner named Westwood told Nicholson and others a fortnight ago that he had struck ” blower ” in the gassy district, and that he could hear it humming 100 yards away. Nicholson said, ” Then, it’s God help you and some of the others one of these days.” This ” blower ” would have been in the hill end heading, or in the immediate neighbourhood. The miners also complain that the inspections were made in a very perfunctory manner, and that they dared not assert their rights for fear they should suffer.
The Governor has sent a telegram to Mr. Hamilton, the Sydney manager of the Bulli Company, thanking him for information concerning the disaster. The telegram is in the following terms :” His Excellency and Lady Carrington are deeply distressed at the terrible intelligence. Please convey their heartfelt sympathy with the wives and families. His Excellency is much impressed by the heroic conduct of the relict parties.”
The latest telegram received from the mine states that 59 bodies have been recovered. The directors of the company met this morning, and opened a subscription list for the relief of the bereaved wives and families. The members of the board subscribed £300; the Waratah Coal Company, £100 ; the North Illawarra Coal Company, £100 ; the trustees the late Sir G. Wigram Allen, £250 ; and of other subscriptions have been received from various places. Several liberal donations have been made or promised. Supplies and assistance for the bereaved families have been sent to Bulli.